The UK government has been accused of “another attempt to exclude, alienate and discriminate” against trans or non-binary people by quietly launching a consultation on gender-neutral toilets in the middle of the pandemic.
The consultation, entitled “Toilet provision for men and women: call for evidence,” was originally announced in October, but updated its call for submissions around the usage of separate-sex and gender-neutral toilets this week to extend its deadline. It claims that “there has been a trend towards the removal of well-established male-only/female-only,” and that gender-neutral facilities “[place] women at a significant disadvantage.”
Many LGBTQ organisations have campaigned for more gender-neutral toilets across the UK in order to create more inclusive spaces and reduce harassment faced by trans and non-gender conforming people. In 2017, London mayor Sadiq Khan called for more gender-neutral toilets across London, a pledge later repeated in his 2020/21 London Plan.
The consultation from the Ministry of Health, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) says that there “needs to be proper provision of gender-specific toilets for both men and women,” and that signage “should not seek to avoid the use of gender-specific language.”
Many charities and LGBTQ organisations have objected to the call for more gender-separated toilets, without mention of the benefits of gender-neutral toilets may hold.
“We believe that a consultation on toilets is yet another attempt by the current government to exclude, alienate and discriminate against trans* [a term used to refer to many trans identities] and non-binary people,” a spokesperson from We Exist, a trans-led organisation, said. “The consultation provides a real risk of scrapping gender-neutral toilets that may already be in place.”
“There is also little to no evidence that cisgender women feel unsafe in current provided facilities so we are concerned that the government is creating a false narrative by which to exclude trans and GNC [gender non-conforming] people,” We Exist added. “This government is happy to start culture wars in an attempt to divert from their many, many failings in dealing with the pandemic, and this is no different.”
Gendered Intelligence (GI), a charity working to improve the lives of trans people, also disputed the evidence behind the government’s consultation. “Toilet facilities is a key area where trans, non-binary and other gender diverse people face barriers to access,” it said. “GI query some of the givens stated as part of the outline for the review. It states that ‘over recent years there has been a trend towards replacing female-only toilets with gender-neutral toilets’. We would welcome evidence to quantify this statement.”
“Our intentions to seek inclusive and available public toilets for trans, non-binary and other gender diverse people does not seek to undermine or compete with women’s rights to also have access to private toilet facilities,” it added. “There is no hierarchy of rights – it is a matter of support and access for all.”
In the past, the government has been accused of the weaponising trans issue to win votes in swing seats. In 2019, shortly before the December election in which the Conservatives won numerous “red wall” seats, Pink News reported that the government had been polling “culture war” issues like trans rights to see whether it would win the party votes.
A spokesperson from the MHCLG said: “There have been a number of high-profile cases and campaigns where women’s toilets have been removed or reduced. Our review will help us understand the full extent of this and ensure there is a diversity of provision and facilities for everyone.”